Success grows out of struggles to overcome difficulties.--Smiles
He who follows two hares is sure to catch neither.--Franklin
The important thing in life is to have a great aim and the determination
to attain it.--Goethe
A healthy definite purpose is a remedy for a thousand ills.
--O. S. Marden
The evidence of superior genius is the power of intellectual
concentration.--B. R. Hayden
Concentration begins with the habit of attention. The highest success in
learning depends on the power of the learner to command and hold his own
attention,--on his ability to concentrate his thought on the subject
before him. By the words "habit of attention," we do not mean here the
outward, respectful attitude of a docile pupil who listens when his
teacher speaks, but something much rarer, much more important, and far
more difficult of attainment. We mean that power of the mind by which a
person is able to give an intelligent account of what is said, whether
in conversation, in lecture, or in sermon; which enables him to grasp at
one reading the important points of a problem or a paragraph; and which
makes it possible for a student or a reader to so concentrate his
attention on what he is doing as to be entirely oblivious, so long as it
does not concern him, of what is going on around him.
This is the age of concentration or specialization of energy. The
problem of the day is to get ten-horse power out of an engine that shall
occupy the space of a one-horse power engine, and no more. Just so
society demands a ten-man power out of one individual. It crowns the man
who knows one thing supremely, and can do it better than anybody else,
even if it be only the art of raising turnips. If he raises the best
turnips by reason of concentrating all his energy to that end, he is a
benefactor to the race, and is recognized as such. The giants of the
race have been men of concentration, who have struck all their blows in
one place until they have accomplished their purpose. The successful men
of today are men of one overmastering idea, one unwavering aim, men of
single and intense purpose. "Scatteration" is the curse of American
business life. Too many are like Douglas Jerrold's friend, who could
converse in twenty-four languages, but had no ideas to express in any
one of them.
"The weakest living creature," says Carlyle, "by concentrating his
powers on a single object, can accomplish something; whereas the
strongest, by dispersing his over many, may fail to accomplish anything.
The drop, by continually falling, bores its passage through the hardest
rock. The hasty torrent rushes over it with hideous uproar and leaves no
It is interesting to read how, with an immense procession passing up
Broadway, the streets lined with people, and the bands playing their
loudest, Horace Greeley would sit upon the steps of the Astor House, use
the top of his hat for a desk, and write an editorial for the New York
_Tribune_ which would be quoted all over the country; and there are
many incidents in his career which go to show that his wonderful power
of concentration was one of the great secrets of his success.
Men who have the right kind of material in them will assert their
personality, and rise in spite of a thousand adverse circumstances. You
cannot keep them down. Every obstacle seems only to add their ability to
get on. The youth Opie earned his bread by sawing wood, but he reached a
professorship in the Royal Academy. When but ten years old he showed the
material he was made of by a beautiful drawing on a shingle. Antonio
Canova was a son of a day laborer; Thorwaldsen's parents were poor; but,
like hundreds of others, these men did with their might what their hands
found to do, and ennobled their work. They rose by being greater than
It is fashionable to ridicule the man of one idea; but the men who have
changed the face of the world have been men of a single aim. No man can
make his mark on this age of specialities who is not a man of one idea,
one supreme aim, one master passion. The man who would make himself felt
on this bustling planet, must play all his guns on one point. A wavering
aim, a faltering purpose, will have no place in the twentieth century.
"Mental shiftlessness" is the cause of many a failure. The world is full
of unsuccessful men who spend their lives letting empty buckets down
into empty wells.
As opposed to men of the latter class, what a sublime picture of
determination and patience was that of Charles Goodyear, of New Haven,
buried in poverty and struggling with hardships for eleven long years,
to make India rubber of practical use! See him in prison for debt;
pawning his clothes and his wife's jewelry to get a little money to buy
food for his children, who were obliged to gather sticks in the field
for fire. Observe the sublime courage and devotion to his idea, when he
had no money to bury a dead child, and when his other five were near
starvation; when his neighbors were harshly criticising him for his
neglect of his family, and calling him insane. But, behold his
vulcanized rubber; the result of that heroic struggle, applied to
thousands of uses by over sixty thousand employees.
A German knight undertook to make an immense Aeolian harp by stretching
wires from tower to tower of his castle. When he finished the harp it
was silent; but when the breezes began to blow he heard faint strains
like the murmuring of distant music. At last a tempest arose and swept
with fury over his castle, and then rich and grand music came from the
wires. Ordinary experiences do not seem to touch some lives, to bring
out their higher manhood; but when patience and firmness bring forth
their fruit it is always of the very finest quality.
It is good to know that great people have done great things through
concentration; but it is better still to know that concentration belongs
to the everyday life of the everyday boy and girl. Only they must not be
selfish about it. Understand the work in hand before it is begun. Don't
think of anything else while doing it; and don't dream when learning a
lesson. Do one thing at a time and do it quickly and thoroughly. "I go
at what I am about," said Charles Kingsley, "as if there was nothing
else in the world for the time being." That's the secret of the success
of all hard-working men.
S. T. Coleridge possessed marvelous powers of mind, but he had no
definite purpose; he lived in an atmosphere of mental dissipation, which
consumed his energy and exhausted his stamina, and his life was in many
respects a miserable failure. He lived in dreams and died in reverie. He
was continually forming plans and resolutions, but to the day of his
death they remained resolutions and plans. He was always just going to
do something, but never did it. "Coleridge is dead," wrote Charles Lamb
to a friend, "and is said to have left behind him above forty thousand
treatises on metaphysics and divinity--not one of them complete!"
Commodore MacDonough, on Lake Champlain, concentrated the fire of all
his vessels upon the "big ship" of Downie, regardless of the fact that
the other British ships were all hurling cannon balls at his little
fleet. The guns of the big ship were silenced, and then the others were
taken care of easily.
By exercising this art of concentration in a higher degree than did his
brother generals, Grant was able to bring the Civil War to a speedy
termination. This trait was strongly marked in the character of
Washington. The same is true in regard to General Armstrong and the
Hampton Institute. That stands as a living monument to his power of
concentration. He had a great purpose: the education of the Negro and
Indian races; and from the close of the Civil War to the day of his
death he labored steadily at that one undertaking, and now the whole
country is proud of the outcome of his toil.
People who have concentration never make excuses. They get more done
than others, and have a better time doing it. Excuses are signs of
shiftlessness. They do not answer in play any better than in lessons or
business. Who ever heard of excuses in football-playing? When we go into
all our duties with the same earnestness and devotion, we shall find
ourselves rapidly rising into one of those foremost places which most of
us so greatly desire.
Few men in this century have followed a single purpose through their
entire lives with greater devotion than the famous missionary and
explorer, David Livingstone.
He was born in Scotland, March 19, 1813, of poor parents. He loved books
as a boy, studied hard to know about rocks and plants, worked in a
cotton mill and earned money to go to a medical school. He was honest,
helped his mother, and read all the books he could. "My reading in the
factory," he said, "was carried on by placing the book on a portion of
the spinning-jenny, so that I could catch sentence after sentence as I
passed at my work. I thus kept up a pretty constant study, undisturbed
by the roar of machinery."
Very early Livingstone began to think about being a missionary. He read
about travels in Africa, about the work of Henry Martyn, and about the
Moravian missions. He heard about China and the need of medical
missionaries there; and he says that "from this time my efforts were
constantly devoted toward this object without any fluctuation."
Livingstone wanted to go to China; but he met Dr. Moffat, who was then
home from Africa, and was persuaded to change his plans. Early in 1841
he reached Algoa Bay, at the south end of Africa. Then he went to Dr.
Moffat's mission station at Kuruman; but here he found the missionaries
did not work well together, that there were more men than work, so he
pushed on into regions where no one had been before. "I really am
ambitious," he wrote, "to preach beyond other men's lines. I am
determined to go on, and do all I can, while able, for the poor,
degraded people in the North."
This feeling sent him into the great wilderness to find what
opportunities it afforded. In 1852 he started on his first great
journey, made more discoveries, and crossed Africa from east to west,
and then back again to the east coast. It was hard work; many were the
difficulties; and his life was often in peril. Yet he saw Africa as no
one before had seen it; and when he returned to England in 1857 he found
himself famous, honored on every hand, and everybody ready to help on
his great and noble work.
In 1859 he returned to Africa with men and money to explore further,
and to see what could be done for the good of the country. He explored
the Zambezi river, on the east coast; and became familiar with that side
of Africa,--its people, rivers, lakes, and mountains. He returned home
in 1864, but went back the next year to seek out the source of the Nile.
In 1865 he started on his longest and last journey, going this time to
the northwest. This was the hardest and most perilous of all his
journeys; for he was often sick, his men were not faithful, the
country was in a state of war, his money gave out; and he was in a
very bad condition when Henry M. Stanley found him in 1871.
Stanley furnished him with money and men, and he started again for the
great interior region to discover the source of the Nile, and then to
return home and die. He was now sixty years old, his health had given
way, but he persisted in the effort to finish his work. He grew weaker
from month to month, but would not turn back. Finally, on May 1, 1873,
his men found him on his knees in his tent, dead; but the results of his
patient and persevering efforts will never die.
[Footnote: Consult Livingstone's "Last Journals" (1874); Blaikie's
"Life of Livingstone;" and Stanley's "How I found Livingstone" (1873).]